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Advice for the rookie trainer


With training budgets being slashed, organisations are now looking at DIY tuition with individuals being thrown in at the deep-end as they become the designated in-house trainer. Tim Holden offers advice on how to avoid those pitfalls that can be all-too-common in the early days.

Pitfall 1: Don’t make assumptions:
If you assume a level of previous knowledge about a task you might not allow enough time. For example, how much time should you allow to show someone how to use a new phone system? If they've worked in an office for several years it may take a few minutes; if they have never worked in one before you will need to go back to basics.

Pitfall 2: Do check equipment thoroughly
Always organise for someone to teach you how to use the equipment and how to deal with common problems, preferably a couple of days before you have to use it. Then get to your training room at least half an hour early to check that it's working so you have time to get it fixed, or find another way to deliver your training.

"Very few people can listen for more than 20 minutes at a time to someone just speaking... Where possible don't just talk for more than five minutes at a time." Tim Holden

Pitfall 3: Do check the room set-up comprehensively
Even if the training room has been set up reasonably you should spend time adjusting the room so it's exactly right for your group.

Consider things such as:

  • Do you want to encourage small group discussions? If so, arrange chairs around desks, or for whole group discussions use a horseshoe shaped design.
  • Is there enough room for everyone to get into and out of their chairs?
  • Are you the ideal distance away from participants? Too close is unnerving, and you'll spend the session gradually moving your chair backwards; too far away and they won't be able to see.
  • Will you be able to easily access your resources?
  • Is the lighting bright, but not too bright?
  • Are the desks clean and chairs tucked in neatly?

Pitfall 4: Do make time to find out about participants
Every training session should be tailored to your participants' needs, so you should find out about each one of them. Where do they work; what kind of work do they do; how long have they been with the company; what are their motivations for coming to this course; what are they expecting to learn; what do they know already?

Some of this you can find out beforehand, other information you can discover by asking questions at the beginning of the training. Knowing this will result in far happier participants and a much more successful training session.

Pitfall 5: Don’t lecture to the audience
Very few people can listen for more than 20 minutes at a time to someone just speaking. Lecturing is also one-way communication – you have no idea whether your participants are learning. Instead use a range of appropriate methods such as small or whole group discussion, questions and answers, case studies/scenarios and practical activities. Where possible don't just talk for more than five minutes at a time.

Pitfall 6: Do make the most of your participants' existing knowledge
Involve your participants by asking them questions about what they already know then work on filling in the gaps. This is a good way to avoid lecturing and it prevents you from accidentally patronising participants. Also, if you ask a question and no-one knows the answer they are far more likely to listen for the answer.

Pitfall 7: Don’t wing it
Some trainers think they are more skilled if they can make it up as they go along. But you should always write a plan (it can be in simple bullet form) of how you will go through the course content. Include the planned activities, questions and what you will say. You need to be flexible because your plan might have to change on the day. But you'll be far more confident if you know what you were going to do.

Pitfall 8: Do write down questions raised
Asking questions to use participants' knowledge or check their understanding will help make your training session interactive and interesting. But good questions are hard to think up on the spot, so try writing them down beforehand.

Pitfall 9: Don’t forget the little things
Enthusiastic trainers often forget to offer little things such as breaks and refreshments. These will help participants be more comfortable and less distracted during the course.

Pitfall 10: Do feel comfortable with the sound of silence
Many trainers are afraid of silence and so rush to answer their own questions. This sends a message to participants that you don't really want to hear their answers, so don't be afraid of silence – it means people are thinking. If you don't get any response after 10 seconds, try asking the question a different way. Wait another five seconds. If you still don't get an answer, then you can give it yourself. To make the silence less uncomfortable, slowly look around the room, smiling as you do.

Pitfall 11: Do make the most of trainers' knowledge and resources
There are many resources out there that already exist for trainers. Rather than trying to figure it all out yourself, take time to ask experienced trainers for advice. You’ve already making the correct moves because you’re reading this, which probably means log on regularly to

Pitfall 12: Don’t start training without a contingency
Imagine the worst case scenarios and what you would do about them. What about a power failure or fire drill? What if half of the participants don't show up? What if one of your participants is way behind or ahead of everyone else? Coming up with contingencies for each scenario means you will handle them with confidence.

For general contingencies, build a “buffer” into your course. For example, if you are running a three-hour session, only plan for two hours and 45 minutes, so you have an extra 15 minutes up your sleeve. If you don't need the time, you can let people go early.

Pitfall 13: Do get participants to practice
You can tell someone how to play golf, but until they get out and have a swing what you've taught them will mean nothing. And so it is in training. Don't give participants the option of whether to practise, just say: “Okay, now I want you to have a go”. Try to get participants to practise on a range of scenarios that best reflects what they will face when they have to apply their learning in the real world.

If you can avoid these potential pitfalls you will find that your sessions run much smoothly and are far more successful.

Tim Holden is managing director of Fluid, a Leeds-based HR consultancy operating across the UK.


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